Scene from The Grizzlies | Image source: Mongrel Media
The Grizzlies is an inspiring, and piercing look, into the lives of youth in Kugluktuk, a Nunavut community with one of the highest teen suicide rates in the world. Even though we get introduced to Kugluktuk through the eyes of settler teacher Russ Sheppard, the story is told in a way that centres Inuit youth as the heroes to their own stories. By centering Inuit youth, the film stays away from the stereotypical and tiresome white saviour tropes that often plague films about people of colour. The Grizzlies is also carried with powerful performances from youth actors who convey complex emotional characters that propel this inspirational story forward. On the verge of The Grizzlies 2019 theatrical debut, actors Paul Nutarariaq and Anna Lambe spoke with MUSKRAT Magazine’s Erica Commanda about their time on set and how being a part of such an important film has changed their lives.
MM: Can you tell me about your experiences on set, working on a film that focuses on some tough subject matter?
PN: To me it was more of a personal project. It’s not so much our stories personally, but they were stories that resonated with all of us – with the cast and crew. These are the stories you hear from west to east, north to south within Indigenous populations. We have all had these struggles from the effects of colonization and how they rippled to the youth today. To be able to tell this message to the rest of the world and this country is so important to me. It’s such a meaningful story, and the fact that it’s based on a true story is even better.
AL: It was quite difficult at times working on a film with such personal topics. It got to a point where it felt like it was my life and not a movie anymore. At the same time I had to remind myself that it was based on a true story and that, “you’ve got to just power through it.” It’s hard, and personal, and it felt that way for everyone [on set], but we had to power through it to get the message out. Although it was difficult, it was very empowering.
MM: So many of the young actors gave stellar performances. How did you prepare for the role?
AL: We had a really nice acting coach – Melee Hutton. She was beyond amazing and she helped us prepare for really difficult scenes. She helped us put ourselves in that position to be vulnerable and to show real emotion. I’ve never acted before, and a lot of the other actors in the film hadn’t either.
PN: We did have some acting coaches, which were great, and we did some workshops when we were auditioning. There wasn’t too much preparation considering we all lived these similar stories in big or small ways. I used my past experiences to motivate myself to try to portray the character as best as possible.
MM: Did you get to meet the people you played in real life? What was that like?
PN: About a year or so after making this story and hearing all about these people, I got to meet them. It was such a humbling experience. It was amazing to get to actually meet Adam, Wynter and April. These are very inspirational people – to see their strength, resilience and perseverance.
AL: It was phenomenal. My character was based on two people: April Kusavuk and Wynter Kuliktana Blais. I got to meet April at the Toronto International Film Festival and got to meet Wynter last week. I felt so honoured to portray characters based on those two strong, beautiful, and powerful women. Thank you to them for being so amazing and for allowing me to tell their story.
MM: How has being part of this film impacted your life? Where do you see yourself after working on such a successful film?
PN: Within the past year or so my life has changed quite dramatically. I’m now enrolled in a community support program. I want to be someone that I never had growing up. I want to help youth struggling with addiction and trauma, and to be a friend to somebody that needs to heal.
AL: I don’t think I can explain how much it’s changed my life. It’s brought me closer to my culture, my people, and has given me an understanding of what it means to be Inuk and Indigenous. I’m so beyond grateful for the opportunity to look at life through a different perspective. When you hear about Inuit, it’s often framed negatively. I had some internalized racism within myself that I knew was wrong and didn’t completely understand. This movie helped me break down a lot of barriers inside of me. I wholeheartedly accept and love that part of me – I love being Inuk. It’s really changed the path of my life. I’m now working towards my Bachelor’s degree in International Development with a focus on Indigenous development. I don’t think I would be here without The Grizzlies.
MM: Even though the film deals with serious subject matter, I still found it very inspiring. What lessons did you take away during the filming process?
PN: There are so many lessons we learned. We learned how to work together as a team, especially on really dramatic and emotional days. We really bonded together, even if some of us weren’t shooting that day, we were set to be supportive of each other on those really hard days. Having that family vibe was really important.
AL: One of the biggest lessons that I learned playing Spring was that healing, overcoming and coping comes from within yourself. If you need to take time away from your life to reconnect to yourself that is absolutely 100% OK, and to recognize that you cannot heal the outside without healing the trauma inside.
Another big lesson that I learned is that you are the creator of your own path. You have to keep moving forward and you have to think about how ‘this’ moment will impact your future, not just the past. Look at the moment and think if I make this decision this will completely change where I go.
The Grizzlies is directed by Miranda de Pencier.
WE ARE GIVING AWAY 10 PAIRS OF TICKETS PER CITY FOR ADVANCED SCREENINGS OF THE FILM: TORONTO, VANCOUVER, VICTORIA, HALIFAX, WINNEPEG, EDMONTON, CALGARY. Advance screenings of the film will take place Wednesday, April 18 at 7pm at the following theatres:
Scotiabank Theatre Halifax
190 Chain Lake Dr.
Halifax Nova Scotia, B3S 1C5
Scotiabank Theatre Winnipeg
817 St. James Street
Winnipeg Manitoba, R3G 3L3
Scotiabank Theatre Chinook
6455 Macleod Trail SW
Calgary AB, T2H 0K4
Scotiabank Theatre Edmonton
8882 170 St Suite: #3030
Edmonton Alberta, T5T 4M2
3130 Tillicum Road
Victoria BC, V9A 6T2
Scotiabank Theatre Vancouver
900 Burrard Street
Vancouver British Columbia, V6Z 3G5
Cineplex Cinemas Yonge-Dundas and VIP
10 Dundas St. E
Toronto Ontario, M5B 2G9